To get close to rare pandas filming ‘Born in China,’ filmmakers had to wear panda outfits which smelled very much like panda poop. It paid off in remarkable ‘Born in China’ footage (out on Blu-ray Tuesday). DisneyNature
DisneyNature filmmakers are known for doing whatever it takes to get stunning footage of wildlife up close — even wearing goofy-looking panda suits required to shoot real pandas for Born in China.
Yes, director Lu Chuan’s ground crew really wore panda outfits, complete with panda poop smell, to shoot the hit nature film, released around Earth Day and set for a Blu-ray release Aug. 29.
As you can see, the clothing was effective: Shots of a mother panda Ya Ya and her beloved cub Mei Mei in the film are intimate and adorable.
The panda ensembles were necessary to be with the protected mammals in their natural environment, China’s Wolong National Nature Reserve.
“Pandas in China are heavily protected because they are incredibly rare—fewer than 2,000 exist in the wild. Many have never set eyes on a human being,” says Paul Baribault, Head of Disneynature, North America. “So our cinematographer and crew members were required to wear panda suits — the black and white garments are made to look and smell like pandas.”
The suits were odd on their own, as this exclusive picture and video show. But the filmmakers had to go full-panda method in the smell department, too. They soaked panda urine and feces to the outfit as a way to help them blend in.
“(The suits) had to pass the ‘sniff test,'” says Baribault. “Pandas, like most animals, use all of their senses to identify what is in their environment. A person in a panda suit would still smell like a person.”
So, the DisneyNature team stunk and dealt with the itchy material during their long shoots. But the crew were able to get right there with the pandas, without having an impact.
“The suits almost served as camouflage, making the crew—in effect—invisible as far as the pandas were concerned. The goal in nature filmmaking is to capture natural behaviors,” says Baribault. “The panda regarded our crew as other pandas. They just went about their business without being uncomfortable, alarmed or getting habituated to humans—which is important to the continued survival of the population.”
Born in China focused on rare animal species in China, including the pandas, along with a young golden snub-nosed monkey and snow leopards.
Director of photography Dr. Paul Stewart was one of the lucky filmmakers required to don the panda suit.
“It’s kind of strange, every once in a while you’ll catch yourself talking with your colleagues all dressed as pandas having very serious discussions about lenses and technical issues,” Stewart said from the set in full attire. “But nothing too bad about the outfit. It’s a little hot when it’s sunny, but otherwise it’s working.”
‘Born in China’ looks at the wildlife and endangered animals in China. USA TODAY